August 25, 2014

New SermonCast: "What Jesus Wants for His Church" @StMarkMobile #UMC

What do you want in a church? It's a common question with almost limitless answers. Traditional. Contemporary. Liturgical. A church with ministries for children. Ministries for youth. Seeker. Missional. The way we answer reveals a lot about our understanding of the Church. There's another question that we need to ask, and this one is even more important: What does Jesus want for his Church? This question is important because it shifts the focus from our desires to Jesus' desires. This question highlights the reality that Jesus is the head of his body, which is the Church, and he calls the shots. In this week's SermonCast, we dig into Ephesians 4:10-16 in order to explore this all-important question. As we do, we will find that, when it come to his Church, Jesus desires mature disciples. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Listen here.

August 19, 2014

New SermonCast: "Gospel Precision, Gospel Power" Romans 1:1-7, 16-17

Gospel precision matters. That's one reason Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. He needed to clear up some potential misunderstandings of the gospel, because gospel precision produces gospel power. Here's the logic. If the gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16), then an imprecise gospel means reduced power. So, this SermonCast digs into the content of a precise gospel that proclaims the lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as a call to faithful obedience. We also explore the power of the gospel to transform lives and energize world mission. Want to hear more? Just click here to listen.

August 11, 2014

New SermonCast: "Big God, Great Plans" Eph 1:3-14 #UMC

What do you think of when you hear the word "God"? Believe it or not, different people have many different ways of thinking about God. We don't all have the exact same notions about what God is like or who God is. Sometimes our understanding of God is too small. Sometimes our understanding of God hinders knowing God. Sometimes people think of God as a cosmic cop just waiting to bust you for breaking his law. Others think of God through the lens of their experience with an abusive or absent father. This is why it is important to understand that our perception of God will shape our expectations of God. If we have a diminished view of God's character, then we will expect him to act as small our our perception. So we need a big vision of a big God. And that's just what we get in the opening chapter of Ephesians. This week's SermonCast is an invitation to a bigger vision of a bigger God with big grace, big plans, and big glory. 

August 8, 2014

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right: Grace, Progress, & the #UMC (@DrewBMcIntyre)

Do evangelicals have a double standard when it comes to sexual ethics? That's the claim made by Drew McIntyre in a post on authority in the sexuality debate. Drew mentioned me in a Tweet about the post. His main point is that conservatives and evangelicals are not taken very seriously when they appeal to scripture to oppose same sex practices because they do not take seriously what scripture says about other sexual sins like adultery and divorce. That is, evangelicals look the other way when someone in their church when a man cheats on his wife but get all hot and bothered when two men show up together. This is a double standard, and nobody like a double standard.  Drew and I have discussed this issue before, and I think we stand in basic agreement. A couple of ideas came to mind as I read, though, so I thought I'd share those here. I'm not disagreeing with Drew's main assessment, but I would want to put a couple of things slightly differently. Here goes. 

Grace never looks the other way

In the course of his argument, Drew suggests that evangelicals have long stalled over one question in particular. He writes: 
"The question that evangelicals, as best I can tell, have not been able to answer is: why is compromise acceptable for adulterers and divorcees in the life of the church, but the idea of extending that same grace to LGBT persons is off limits?"
I would urge caution in putting the question in a way that suggests evangelicals have extended grace to adulterers and divorcees by compromising on and ignoring something that scripture clearly forbids. In the Bible, adultery is always condemned, and divorce is condemned in most circumstances. (Even in cases where scripture allows for divorce, it is never seen as good, right, or God honoring.) Ignoring sin is never a grace-filled way of dealing with that sin. When one of my children sins against another one, it is grace to lovingly discipline and teach them to confess their sin and seek reconciliation with the one they have wronged. It's not fun and often tries my own patience, but this sort of instruction is a means of grace to help my kids grow in Christ likeness. To ignore their sin and give them the impression that their errant behavior is acceptable would be sin against them on my part, as would losing my temper and dealing harshly with their sin. Either path would only lead them further into the destructiveness of sinful habit. Ignoring sin is never grace. If the cross teaches us anything, it should be that the triune God never ignores sin. He would take the weight of the penalty on himself rather than ignore our transgression. Grace always deals with sin and never looks the other way. Any attitude among evangelicals that does look the other way on some (but not all) sexual sin is cowardice, not grace.

When going forward means going back

That sets up the next point. If grace means dealing with sin rather than ignoring it, then the answer is not to ignore what scripture says about one action because we've already ignored it on other actions. We do not now compromise on same sex practices because we've already compromised on adultery. Two wrongs don't make a right. Few have put the principle more clearly than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man" (Bk. 1, Ch. 5).
If evangelicals have taken the wrong road by compromising on biblical sexuality when it comes to adultery and divorce, then it is not progress to likewise compromise on same sex practice. The answer is not to continue down the wrong road; it is to go back and take seriously all of scripture and seek to apply it to the Church and ourselves for the sake of the world and for the glory of God. If evangelicals want to answer Drew's question, it means confessing and repenting of the sin of cowardice and gracelessness. It means being faithful to all of scripture, not just our favorite bits. Sometimes going forward requires turning around.
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Image: manostphotos via freedigitalphotos.net

August 7, 2014

Center for Pastor Theologians Announces Third Fellowship (@CenPasTheo)

I was pleased to learn that the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT) is growing and has begun taking applications for a third fellowship. If you don't know about CPT, it is group composed primarily of pastor scholars who are committed to writing robust theology from the context of local church ministry. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter. This is from the CPT website:
The CPT is an evangelical organization dedicated to assisting pastor-theologians in producing and studying biblical and theological scholarship for the ecclesial renewal of the theology, and the theological renewal of the church. At present, the primary mission emphasis of the CPT is the CPT Fellowships, made up of a broadly diverse and select group of pastor-theologians. Each Fellowship gathers annually for a three-day theological symposium where Fellows collaborate together on various theological projects (both personal and corporate).
The ultimate aim of the CTP is the renewal of the Christ’s Bride, through the advancement of a robust, Christ exalting ecclesial theology.
Before the modern period, theological writings were largely produced by scholars who were also serving in the trenches of daily ministry. Think Augustine, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Calvin, and, of course, Wesley. The most important theology in the history of the Church has been written by bishops and pastors. The publication of theology by academics who are not necessarily writing from an ecclesial context is a fairly recent move. That is not to say that academic theologians do not have a very important role. They certainly do! Many academic theologians produce immensely helpful scholarship that is interesting and helpful, and for that I am grateful. The point is that the rise of academic theology has come with a decrease of ecclesial theology - robust theology written by those in local church ministry settings That decrease means that there is a gaping hole in the discipline of theology. We read little serious theology written by local church pastors, and the Church is impoverished for it. The best case scenario would be rich theology written by pastors and academics. Right now there are far too few pastors writing these kinds of books. 

This is why I'm grateful for CPT. They are working to bring attention to this lack and to fill the gap by cultivating ecclesial theology - robust theology written by pastors. So, if you are interested in applying for the third fellowship, you can find the information at the CPT blog. What CPT is doing is an essential component of healthy Christianity, and I'm glad to see they are growing and making room for more pastor scholars to engage in a vocation of writing theology from the Church. That is something to celebrate.

August 4, 2014

New SermonCast: "Growing into Salvation" 1 Peter 2:2-10 #UMC

Much of the time we think of salvation in the past tense. We focus in on that moment when we first experienced God's reconciling grace, whether a prayer, an altar call, or some other crucial event. Acknowledging and giving thanks for the work of God in our lives in the past is good and right. The grace that comes at conversion is the essential beginning of life in Christ. But we sell ourselves short if we don't give equal or greater attention to the saving work of God in our lives now and in the future. In this week's SermonCast, we take a look at Peter's metaphor of birth and growing up as a way of thinking about Christian discipleship. When we think of following Jesus in terms of being born and growing up, we affirm the importance of God's work in our past, but our attention is also drawn to what God is doing now in preparation for the future. Peter wants us to understand that salvation is bigger than our past. Salvation transforms our present and our future.